Monday, November 26, 2012

A Hologram for the King

As you may know, I think Dave Eggers is an absolute genius, and I love everything he writes and does - especially the 826 organizations around the country.  By the way, my old friend Amanda is an Executive Director at 826 Michigan and recently spoke at TED Detroit. (So! Cool!)

So, I really don't know why, but his latest book seemed to really fly under the radar this year.  But, let me assure you that it is amazing in every way, and really worth anyone's time to read.  I'm even think my dad, who, as far as I know, hasn't read a full book since... I don't know when, would really love this book.

It's called a Hologram for the King - and, first, I would like to wax nostalgic about the cover art.  For one thing, I've noticed that Eggers usually doesn't have a book jacket, and, I have to think that he's like me and thinks, book jackets are stupid, why does my book need a jacket, it's just extra paper that gets in the way and requires production... so, no book jacket, but the hardback has been kind of pressed to resemble and old, fancy, embossed leather book.  It even has a sort of surprise detail in the cover, but I'll leave that for you to figure out.  Just gorgeous, and it's going to put all the other books on my shelves to shame.

It's about this man, Alan Clay, who's in Saudia Arabia to present a technology to the King in order, he hopes, to secure the IT contract for this new city that's being built in the desert.  Clay is almost broke, having experienced a lot of success but now stuck in the downward spiral of the economy.  Clay and his colleagues soon realize that the king's schedule changes constantly, and the few days they thought they would be overseas stretch to several weeks.  Meanwhile, in a jet-lagged fog, compounded by some illegal hootch given to him by an ex-pat, he awkwardly tries to negotiate this new culture and turn his life around.

Cleverly included in this funny, slightly surreal story about a the hubris involved in building a city in a desert (while firmly remembering that that very hubris is what lead to unprecedented growth in America) are reflections on American industry, outsourcing, a cautionary cautionary tale about putting our eggs in the basket that is the middle east, and representations of masculinity.  
He wanted to believe that this kind of thing, a city rising from dust, could happen. The architectural renderings he'd seen were magnificent. Gleaming towers, tree-lined public spaces and promenades, a series of canals allowing commuters to get almost anywhere by boat. The city of futuristic and romantic, but also practical. It could be made with extant technology and a lot of money, but money Abdullah certainly had. Why hadn't he just put the money up himself, without Emaar, was a mystery. The man had enough money to raise the city overnight - so why didn't he? Sometimes a king had to be a king.
Once again, Eggers has really captured the spirit of our times and I just wish this book were getting more press!  I feel like it's not getting the praise it deserves.

Here are my glowing reviews of What is the What and Zeitoun.  I must have read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius pre-Bookish because I don't have an entry for it, but I love that book too.

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